Sonoma County is now officially home to some of California's most coveted and expensive real estate.
A New York couple paid nearly $31 million for a 362-acre estate in the hills west of Sonoma — an apparent record high price for the county and among the biggest deals in the state.
The Tuscan-inspired villa on the side of Sonoma Mountain includes 8 acres of vineyards, seven miles of private hiking trails, and a 11,605-square-foot mansion made with 800-year-old Italian roof tiles and 200-year-old wood beams.
The rambling country estate, which was completed in 1995, even comes with its own firetruck and a staff of seven to operate it.
The buyer is the former chief executive of Citigroup, Sanford "Sandy" Weill and his wife, Joan.
Weill, who is credited with building Citigroup into the world's largest bank before its collapse in 2008, became a target of public outrage for his involvement in Wall Street's recent financial collapse. He also made headlines as an example of corporate excess.
Weill had retired as chief executive of Citi in 2003 and chairman in 2006, and he had become well known for his philanthropic work. He is a major donor to hospitals, colleges and nonprofits. He has donated more than $250 million to Cornell University, where the medical school is named after him.
But a few weeks after Citi accepted a $45 billion taxpayer bailout, Weill took the corporate plane to vacation in Mexico, outraging the public and earning a dubious headline in the New York Post: "Pigs Fly: Citi Jets Ex-C.E.O. to Cabo."
Weill's new luxury estate, dubbed "Shanel," is no stranger to the world's elite. Former owners Gary and O.J. Shansby were known for hosting themed parties that attracted wealthy friends and powerful politicians.
The Shansbys threw hoedowns at their stables, which included a 6,000-square-foot covered riding arena. Guests included former Gov. Pete Wilson and his wife, Gayle; U.S. Ambassador to France Howard Leach and his wife, Gretchen; U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul; and California Supreme Court Justice Ronald George and his wife, Barbara.
Gary Shansby made his fortune in the health and nutrition products industry, developing and marketing well-known brands such as Famous Amos Cookies and Vitamin Water.
The Shansbys put the property on the market in 2005 for $35 million.
Wednesday's sale comes amid the worst real estate meltdown since the Great Depression. Luxury home prices in Sonoma County fell by 30 percent, with homes on the lower end dropping up to 50 percent.
Real estate agents say the mammoth price paid by the Weills is not an indicator of an emerging real estate recovery, but rather the ability of the world's wealthiest individuals to buy what they desire.
"When you are spending that much money, you are probably just buying whatever you want," said David Carpenter, a Coldwell Banker agent specializing in million-dollar homes in the region.
Ross Liscum, a high-end broker with Prudential California Realty in Santa Rosa, said billionaires tend to focus on what they want, and not on the price tag.
"It's not an issue of value," he said. "They see something they like, and they are buying it."
Sandy Walker, a San Francisco architect and designer of the luxurious Auberge du Soleil resort in Napa Valley and many Bay Area showpiece homes, designed Shanel for Shansby and considers it among the best work of his four-decade career.